Captain Gabriel Lorca of the USS Discovery is certainly the most unconventional Starfleet captain in Star Trek history. He’s aggressive, laser-focused on wartime military strategy and tactics, and more than happy to flaunt Starfleet norms and regulations at every turn.
We’ve previously speculated that Lorca could be a part of Section 31, the shadowy black ops and espionage organization that operates in the interests of the Federation of Planets without any oversight from Starfleet command. Several episodes of Lorca jockeying with Admiral Cornwell and other members of the Starfleet Admiralty seem to have put that theory to bed, but perhaps there’s another explanation for Lorca’s unusual behavior.
Could this Gabriel Lorca be from the mirror universe?
Let’s examine this theory first by looking at what Star Trek: Discovery has revealed about Lorca and his history, as well as how the series has so far chosen to explain Lorca’s atypical personality and unusual style of command.
Prior to being given command of the USS Discovery, Lorca was in command of the USS Buran. After the Battle at the Binary Stars ignited the Federation-Klingon war, the Buran became involved in a battle with Klingon forces. When the battle seemed lost, Lorca chose to destroy the Buran rather than allow his crew to be taken as prisoners.
Lorca was the only survivor of the Buran’s destruction. In addition to damaging his eyes, leaving them unusually photosensitive, Lorca’s survival hurt his reputation with others in Starfleet command since a captain is traditionally supposed to go down with his ship. This black mark may be part of the reason he was given command of the Discovery, which is primarily a science vessel.
While that is all we know about Lorca from primary canon, we can glean a bit more from the description of the upcoming novel Star Trek: Discovery: Drastic Measures. The status of these tie-in novels is quasi-canonical, meaning basically that they are canon until the television series contradicts them. However, unlike previous Star Trek novels, the Discovery novels are being coordinated with the Discovery writers, led by Kirsten Beyer, and being treated as background material for the characters, perhaps giving them a bit more weight than past Star Trek novels.
Desperate Measures goes back to when Lorca was a Lieutenant Commander and sees him sent to Tarsus IV to deal with the situation caused by the man who becomes known as Kodos the Executioner.
These events were relayed in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode “The Conscience of the King,” since James Kirk was on Tarsus IV when these events transpired and he was one of the few people who could identify Kodos for who he was.
Seeing one of the darkest moments in Federation history could have gone a long way to coloring Lorca’s attitude in Star Trek: Discovery.
If we take Drastic Measures as canon, we know that Gabriel Lorca existed in the prime timeline universe, meaning that if the Lorca in Discovery is from the mirror universe, then the real Lorca must have been killed – either in the Buran’s destruction or by mirror universe Lorca – or otherwise imprisoned or lost, perhaps sent to the mirror universe in this Lorca's place.
Now let’s consider what we know about the mirror universe in relation to Star Trek: Discovery. Star Trek: The Next Generation star and director Jonathan Frakes, who directed an episode of Star Trek: Discovery, let slip at a convention that Discovery would be doing a mirror universe episode. Executive Producer Alex Kurtzman confirmed to ComicBook.com that the mirror universe would be involved in multiple episodes of the series.
Fans also noticed something interesting from a Star Trek: Discovery photo shoot in Variety. The shoot included a photo of Jason Isaacs, who plays Lorca, sitting in the Discovery captain’s chair. However, some fans noticed that the dedication plaque on the ship’s bridge in the background had the designation ISS Discovery. That designation is used by the Terran Empire, the mirror universe version of the Federation of Planets.
Some fans took this as a purposeful hint that Lorca is from the mirror universe. However, it seems more likely that the photo shoot took place at some point after Star Trek: Discovery had started shooting episodes involving the mirror universe version of the Discovery and someone neglected to change or to cover up the nameplate. All this photo confirms is that the mirror universe version of the Discovery will appear on Star Trek: Discovery at some point, and not that the Lorca currently appearing in Star Trek: Discovery is originally from the mirror universe.
There’s also the question of how Lorca would have gotten to the prime timeline from the mirror universe. In the original “Mirror, Mirror” episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, the crew members of the Enterprise are switched with their mirror universe doppelgangers by accident thanks to a transporter malfunction. Could a similar malfunction have taken place while Lorca was trying to escape the Buran?
Knowing that there is a mirror universe connection in Star Trek: Discovery, there may be some hints suggesting that universe is where Lorca’s true origin lies. While the team behind Star Trek: Discovery have been secretive about the show, Isaacs has been particularly tight-lipped about Lorca’s history, suggesting a big twist may be hidden in the captain’s past.
Generally speaking, Lorca’s focus on Starfleet’s military capabilities fits more in line with an officer of the Terran Empire than that of the Federation, since the Empire is in a constant state of war. However, more specific evidence came in last week’s episode of Star Trek: Discovery, titled “Lethe.”
The episode established that Lorca had a relationship with Admiral Katrina Cornwell before the Federation-Klingon War broke out. While Cornwell refers to Lorca as a friend, their relationship clearly has a sexual component to it as well.
While Lorca and Cornwell were apparently close, Lorca seems uncomfortable when Cornwell brings up their history. She mentions a meteor shower they both witnessed when they were younger, and he quickly changes the subject. He became similarly uncomfortable when Cornwell brought up his damaged eyes in the previous episode, though he did give a better explanation for why he refuses to have them repaired to Lt. Ash Tyler later in the episode.
After Lorca and Cornwell have spent the night together, Cornwell examines the scars on Lorca’s back. Cornwell seems to find the scars unfamiliar. It's possible that they are scars from the destruction of the Buran, but they could also be unfamiliar because they do not belong to the man she knew.
Lorca wakes with a start and draws a phaser on Cornwell. He lowers the weapon, but Cornwell is furious. Sleeping with a weapon is a writing trope often used to establish that a character has some form of PTSD, but it seems out of place for a character who suffered trauma specifically during a ship-to-ship battle.
However, sleeping with a phaser would make sense for any high-ranking officer of the mirror universe, since the easiest path to promotion in the Terran Empire is through assassination. Is this a storytelling oversight by the Discovery writers, or a clue to Lorca’s true identity?
Speaking of promotions, Lorca seems to give them out awfully freely. In the episode “Choose Your Pain,” he gives Lt. Tyler the position of chief of security and Michael Burnham the position of science specialist on the bridge of the Discovery.
While the chief of security position would be open after the death of Commander Landry, shouldn’t the science specialist position already have been filled? And, on a science vessel, wouldn’t there be any number of other candidates in line for the position if it was open? Choosing two officers from outside the ranks may make sense for someone used to the way rank changes in the mirror universe, which could be said of most of Lorca’s unique command style.
If Lorca is from the mirror universe, it may also explain his complete fascination with Michael Burnham. He went out of his way to recruit Burnham and stressed her safety over everything else to Tyler when he sent them out on a mission in “Lethe.” Perhaps Lorca believes he knows something about Burnham based on what he knew of her mirror universe counterpart.
The final scenes of “Lethe” really lampshade the idea that Lorca could be from the mirror universe. Cornwell says that Lorca seems “like a different person,” which would be true if he is from the mirror universe. Lorca choosing to leave Cornwell in the custody of the Klingons after she threatened to remove him from his command is also a very mirror universe move.
And then there are the final moments. When First Officer Saru reports Cornwell’s capture to Lorca, the audience can see that he has a phaser tucked behind him. Was he planning to shoot his way out if they came for him? Or was he going to kill himself?
The final lampshade comes when the camera lingers on Lorca as he stares at his own reflection in his window of his quarters.
Is Lorca from the mirror universe? There is certainly an argument to be made, and following the adventures of a mirror universe survivor trying to make due in the prime timeline could open up some interesting storytelling potential.
New Star Trek: Discovery episodes become available to stream Sundays at 8:30 p.m. ET on CBS All Access.